With all that’s happened over the last couple of years, 2019 seems like an age ago. It was that year when VRFocus got its first hands-on glimpse of Vertigo Games’ Arizona Sunshine follow up After the Fall, an action-packed shooter set in the frozen wasteland of Los Angeles. After a few delays, the studio is almost ready to launch the zombie-themed FPS across multiple headsets and VRFocus got another peek at the title and game mode called Harvest.
In actual fact, the demo contained three distinct sections of After the Fall, and as expected offering a different flavour to the proceedings since last we met. Available were the Outlands, and introductory level given players the main gist of the controls, a hub section called The Line where players can meet up and chat before heading out on co-op missions together, which leads us to the Harvest.
If you’ve played Arizona Sunshine you’ll likely have dabbled in the frantic horde mode, a later addition where you have to survive waves of enemies. Harvest is After the Fall’s horde mode of sorts but instead of running around a singular map, players have to work their way through a level, stopping off at occasional safe houses, with the main goal being to collect as much Harvest as possible from dead enemies.
This you can then use in Harvest-o-Matic’s found in safe rooms to purchase useful equipment such as health, pipe bombs and ammunition. It’s a setup most Left 4 Dead or Back 4 Blood players will be familiar with. You all have to work together because inventory space is very limited, choosing between a health pack or a tasty explosive could mean life or death on those frozen streets.
Before getting there The Line is worth an exploration. It’s like a massive arcade with loads of cabinets in the middle, where you can team up with three other friends before going on a Harvest (AI bots are available to make teams up to 4), head to the shooting range or talk to Luna who runs the place. *Spoiler* As an awesome nod to Vertigo Games’ previous title there are Arizona Sunshine cabinets offering a very basic twin-stick shooter for a quick time killer.
Vertigo Games has been sure to include plenty of accessibility options that are always worth a peruse before heading into the action, as you can play seated or standing, teleport or use smooth locomotion and change how reloading works. It’s the latter that VRFocus instantly had issues with which was a worry so close to launch.
Ammo is located right on your chest, with the belt height adjustable to suit each player’s requirements. You then have the choice of Quick or Advanced reloading, the former consisting of merely bringing the gun to your chest whilst the latter is a more traditional manual VR mechanic, ejecting the magazine, grabbing a clip and cocking the gun. However, when it came to fighting that first ravenous horde of Snowbreed it was an absolute fumble fest. The Quick reloading was intermittent at best, constantly jabbing the gun at the ammo belt until something happened. Advanced reloading, on the other hand, was smooth as butter, feeling natural popping clips out and jamming another in. Additionally, there’s a Harvest multiplier if you choose the Advanced option.
After the Fall also employs and omits several other familiar VR shooter mechanics. Taking a leaf out of Half-Life: Alyx’s book are the wrist pockets, these are your only inventory slots for things like health and explosives. This becomes even more of a juggle once you start locating Floppy Disks, these unlock new equipment by taking them to the Harvest-o-Matic and then completing the run. You can hold up to four weapons if you so wish, one on each hip and one in each hand for that proper gun-toting Rambo look. But you can’t put anything over your shoulder, even the bigger two-handed weapons go on your hip which seems a bit strange. There wasn’t a chance to test how two rifles on each hip and one hand-held would look although we’d imagine the visual clutter might be a bit much. Also, there wasn’t a chance to test the weapon upgrade system which was a shame, that’ll just have to wait for the full review.
Even with those grumbles, the gameplay was exactly as hoped, fast and at times unrelenting, with Snowbreed clambering through walls, across ceilings or just plain smashing through stuff like a bulldozer. It was arcade action at its best, ziplining across buildings, gunning down corridors or monsters then in those moments where you could take a breather exploring rooms to find useful loot and collectables. Aside from the base slow and fast Snowbreed there were four more specialised foes that would pop up occasionally, Juggernaut, Eater, Brute and Smasher. They’re all tanks in their own right with the Juggernaut able to pick you up, the Eater explodes, the Brute is a super speedy fella whilst the Smasher was the final huge opponent to overcome. Certainly impressive and tough in the first run, how well they work across multiple Harvest remains to be seen.
After the Fall is gearing up to be one of VR’s biggest winter 2021 launches thanks to the wall-to-wall combat. There’s also the impressive feat of co-op, cross-platform gameplay between all supported headsets, which should ensure player numbers for full Harvest runs. Considering how some VR videogames have struggled with this feature, having it available from day one could mean all the difference. After the Fall is coming to Oculus Quest 2, PlayStation VR and PC VR headsets on 9th December, so there’s not long to wait to see if it’s been worth those delays.